Sunday, 2 January 2011


Manning up and growing some balls ... For Egypt's sake

  • Sunday, 2 January 2011
  • Fouad GM
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  • A friend of mine wrote a short Facebook note which he ended with the provocative (even blasphemous) phrase:
    طزّ في الهلال قبل الصليب . و ماحدّش يكلمني عن "الدين" الصحيح
    (tr. screw the Crescent as well as the Cross ... And do not talk to me about "real" religiosity)
    His remark comes in context of the heinous attack on the Coptic Orthodox Church of Al-Qidissain Mar Murqus and Mar Butrus in Sidi Bishr, Alexandria. The attack took place shortly after midnight as a 1000+ congregation gathered in the church for midnight mass on new year's eve causing shock and terror on a scale unprecedented since the 1997 Luxor massacre (bearing in mind, the former targeted the lucrative tourism industry empowering the state whereas the latter targeted Egyptian Copts).

    Egyptians' reactions have followed a usual, predictable and rather 'conservative' pattern ranging from expressing outrage at the attack to expressing solidarity with the Coptic community. The more daring, pointed their fingers at the failure of Egypt's repressive security apparatus; linked the attack to the precarious political situation in the country; or called for the dismissal of Minister of Interior Habib El-Adly or holding him accountable for torture, the perpetuation of the State of Emergency and for the repeated failures of the security apparatus in preventing terrorist attacks or bringing the perpetrators to justice.

    The Coptic Orthodox Church hosts an annual iftar in Ramadan as a complimentary show of national unity, another example of the "Crescent and the Cross" denialism [source: 3arabawy on FlickR].

    The usual response has been the same since the turn of the twentieth century: an outburst of the famous slogan "عاش الهلال مع الصليب" (Long Live the Crescent and the Cross). On the other hand, while expressing outrage at a terrorist attack; the alleged kidnapping of a convert from one faith to the other; or sectarian clashes here and there ... Egyptian's are accustomed to repeating a number of lame phrases with little or no meaning. These include "there must be foreign hands behind this heinous crime" because "Egypt is known for the coexistence of its 'two components', Christians and Muslims"; "this is a distortion of genuine religiosity"; and "religion doesn't preach such a crime against innocent people".

    The more 'political' will point fingers towards the USA or Israel and accuse them of "meddling in Egyptian affairs"; "inciting sectarian hatred"; and "attempting to divide the otherwise-inseparable Egyptian nation."

    This is not just a popular view, but also an institutional one which the Egyptian Coptic Church, the Muslim establishment and the government work together to propagate. The press conference held in the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbasiya, Cairo by Pope Shnouda III, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar and Minister of Religious Endowments is a case in point. President Mubarak's speech in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Al-Qidissain Church in Alexandria is another case in point.
    Mubarak: The attack bears the hallmarks of the sinful hands of external forces [...] who targeted our nation, Muslims and Christians alike [...] The terrorist attack is 'foreign' to us! And left the blood of our innocent martyrs mixed on the streets of Alexandria.
    Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians changed their Facebook profile pictures and statuses to correspond to the terrorist attack. Images of Crescents and Crosses coloured with the red-white-and-black colours of the Egyptian flag flooded the social networking site and tens of thousands of Egyptian flags replaced Egyptians' profile pictures. Some, Muslims and Christians alike, even used pictures of Coptic churches and sacred iconography in place of their profile pictures.

    Once again, "Long Live the Crescent and the Cross" dominated Egyptians' reactions to the attack whose magnitude is yet to be realised. Needless to say, it is slightly refreshing to see that some still resort to notions of national unity and a legacy of coexistence (even if it's just mythical) in response to such an attack.

    But I do wonder, how much thought has the average Egyptian put into the attack? How much thought have these innumerable people who use Crescent-and-Cross slogans, images and symbols given to the causes of the attack and its repercussions?

    Very little it seems.

    Little has been learnt from the previous attacks against Egypt's Christian community and the noticeable escalation of sectarian strife in Egypt since 2008 has been allowed to go on despite occasional outbursts of condemnation by Egypt's middle classes. How come so little has been said of the innumerable online forums and Facebook groups issued repeated terror threats and incited? Interestingly, when a number of these forums and groups surfaced to the attention of the online Egyptian middle class, they were immediately reported to online administrators and were eventually closed down - but no conclusions were made; debate was barred; and no lessons learnt!

    Even worse, very little thought and certainly-insufficient attention has been paid to the attack on the Syriac Catholic Church of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad in October 2010 by Al-Qaida's Islamic State in Iraq which declared the attack a 'warning' to Egypt's Coptic Church.

    Which brings me to the real issue. Yes, I believe the attack might well have been the doing of Al-Qaida. Yes, it might well have been funded by external sources. And yes, it might well contribute to the further fragmentation of Egyptian society which might further the strategic gains of this foreign country or the other.

    But why did the perpetrators of the numerous sectarian clashes of the past three years find it justifiable to attack Egyptian Christians and their churches? Why did Al-Qaida's 'ever-so-foreign' brand of terrorism and it's "false interpretation of Islam" appeal to some Egyptians?

    On the other hand, why did angry Christian protestors view this as a 'Muslim attack' against 'the Christian community'? Why did they not subscribe to the official narrative that this is a 'foreign attack' on 'Egypt as a whole'? Why have angry mobs demanded Pope Shenouda III not receive the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar? Why has the slogan "with our souls, with our blood, we redeem the Cross" dominated young Copts' protests? And why have Coptic youth throughout the country expressed their desire to be martyred in defence of the Cross?

    Clearly the glamourous slogans of "Long Live the Crescent and the Cross" along with the externalisation of responsibility are not as convincing for Egyptians as they are omnipresent.

    One might be a man of faith. One might be convinced that religion preaches benevolence. One might even believe that religion unleashes the good in man and not the heinous, hateful and vengeful. You might be confident that an attack like that on the Al-Qidissain Church is not an act of Islam, but an act of terror. But if you harbour such convictions, you need not wait for an alibi to prove your faith's innocence. In fact, you, more than anyone else, should be seeking the real cause behind sectarian violence.

    It is high time for Egyptians to stop burying their heads in the soft sands that are engulfing their country. It's high time for Egyptians to stop using colourful and glamorous veils tainted with words and sentiments of an artificial national unity to blind themselves from the evidently internalised sectarian conflict within Egyptian society. It is time we ignore the benefit foreign powers might gain from internal divisions and focus on why these divisions exist and how they go violent.

    For these reasons, I couldn't agree more with Ahmad Gharbieh ... TOZZ ... I do no care for the Crescent, nor do I give a sh*t for the Cross !

    I care to see a more aware and a more proactive Egyptian middle class: one that does not view sectarian violence as "a distortion of religion" or "a Zionist plot" ... I care to see an Egyptian middle class that does not hide behind the ridiculousness of "Long Live the Crescent and the Cross" to disguise a culture of political apathy.

    Enough propaganda, enough lovey-duffy bullocks and let's face our issues before Egypt descends into endless 'Lebanonisation' - or should I say, 'labwanisation'.

    Instead of upholding artificial notions of national unity, I insist on aspiring and working towards an Egyptian middle class with the balls to acknowledge the deep structural imbalances in Egyptian society and the entrenched political failures of over a century! Let there be an Egyptian middle class with enough courage to hit the nail on the head and tackle these structural imbalances and failures.

    Let us leave the Crescent and the Cross aside and lets address the role of religious institutions in public life; tackle the question of citizenship and citizen rights. Let us reform a political system that thrives on dealing with society in a segmented form; let us reform a security apparatus that skillfully terrorises citizens and tortures them but categorically fails to defend public life and private property from petty criminals, organised crime and terrorism. Let us address the structural imbalances in the relationship between the institutions of the state and the severe regional and class disparities.

    2 Responses to “Manning up and growing some balls ... For Egypt's sake”

    Anonymous said...
    3 January 2011 at 10:54

    I agree in general with the core of your thinking - though not the language and vehemence, which I guess is a matter of age anyway. Apathy has allowed thing to go this far, nothing else - no international interference, no plots etc. The day we remove the ridiculous "khana" for religion on national ID cards, is what I live for. But I am 60 years old already ...

    MG said...
    4 January 2011 at 08:58

    "But why did the perpetrators of the numerous sectarian clashes of the past three years find it justifiable to attack Egyptian Christians and their churches? Why did Al-Qaida's 'ever-so-foreign' brand of terrorism and it's "false interpretation of Islam" appeal to some Egyptians?". I completely agree. We have a lot of frail threads inside our seemingly coherent society, and most people in denial. Admitting the truth would mean admitting that behind the closed doors of some houses, churches, and mosques, some people are taught NOT to like or respect the other religion but only pretend they do. It'd mean admitting that whoever smiled at you on the street or in your class was secretly thinking you should burn in hell. It'd mean admitting that a lot of what we see/think/believe is not real, which is a bit of a scary concept for Egyptians. Breaking the facade is a taboo and should be avoided at all cost. It's like people who deny their kid is gay or their brother is an atheist and pretend they don't even know about it.

    I think we should all admit the truth in order to try to fix it at some point. That cavity that everyone is denying will end up becoming a big hole that every enemy and every passer-by will be able to use against us. I do agree that if any external hands did this, then at least they are using something we gave them.

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